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Panic Attacks and Epilepsy - Important Considerations

Panic attacks are extremely frightening, and can cause a host of physical and mental symptoms that make it feel as though something is terribly wrong with your brain. That's why it's no surprise that many people try to figure out if they're having a panic attack and all, wondering if instead they're suffering from something more serious - something like epilepsy.

Believe that panic attacks may be epilepsy is sadly common. But for better or worse, it's extremely rare for someone's panic attacks to be the result of a seizure.

Are You Experiencing a Panic Attack?

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It's Usually Anxiety

It's not clear whether it's good news or bad news that panic attacks are almost never related to epilepsy. It's good news because epilepsy is a lifelong disease. It's bad news because many people can't believe that these severe symptoms are the result of their mental health, and want to find an answer that makes more sense.

If you want a better idea about your anxiety, take my anxiety test. Another issue is that anxiety causes people to believe that they have something terrible. That type of negative thinking is actually a symptom of anxiety. That complicates the issue since those with panic attacks often struggle to believe it could be something that simple. Epilepsy is just one of many fears that those with panic disorder have.

It's also a fair question, because the symptoms can be severe enough that they may feel like what one would expect a seizure to feel like. For some, a panic attack feels like the brain is overwhelmed, and that their body isn't working properly as a result.

Partial Seizures and Panic Attacks

Another issue that fuels this fear is that there have been cases of what's known as a "partial seizure" that resembles a panic attack. Full seizures with epilepsy are often far more dramatic, and there's little question that you had a seizure rather than an anxiety attack.

But partial seizures can, in rare cases, provide many of the same symptoms as a panic attack. Because anxiety causes people to believe they're one of the rare cases, this causes further stress. While only a doctor can diagnose epilepsy, there are several reasons to be fairly certain you are not suffering from a partial seizure:

  • Seizures tend to cause people to be non-responsive.
  • Panic attacks actually take longer, peaking after 10 minutes. Seizures are only a few seconds.
  • Seizures tend to occur extremely rapidly. Panic attacks have a buildup.
  • Seizures often cause a repetitive action, like chewing, that the person is unaware of.
  • Age of onset of seizures tends to occur more often in the elderly and young. Panic attacks tend to start between 15 and 35.

Partial seizures that mimic anxiety attacks are also extremely rare. Only 1% of the population has epilepsy, and only a small fraction of those with epilepsy have it occur in the small section of their brain that can cause a panic attack. That degree of localization affects an extremely small percentage of individuals, and many of those individuals also have other signs of epilepsy and a diagnosis that started at a much younger age.

So while seizures that are similar to panic attacks do exist, they're so incredibly rare that it's highly unlikely that you have it, and even less likely for you to have it without knowing.

Epilepsy Can Contribute to Panic Attacks

It should also be noted that those that have been diagnosed with epilepsy may have panic attacks themselves. Those with health conditions are more prone to monitoring how they feel, and for those with stress they can suffer from hyperventilation and panic attacks as a result of fearing the onset of their epilepsy symptoms.

Furthermore, those with epilepsy may also be more prone to seizures when a person also suffers from anxiety. That's because some theorize that stress can lead to the development of seizures, or at least the increase in likelihood of a seizure.

Talking to Your Doctor, Taking Control of Your Anxiety

Only a medical professional can diagnose epilepsy. It is technically possible for you to have epilepsy and not panic attacks. But know that nearly everyone with panic attacks feels as though it must be something else (like epilepsy) only to find that they truly were suffering from panic attacks in the end.

Talk to your doctor, but consider starting treatment for your panic attacks in the meantime. The longer you let your panic attacks run wild, the harder they are to start.

I've helped many people with panic attacks overcome their symptoms. Start with my free 7 minute anxiety test now. The test will help you learn more about your panic attacks and give you information on how to start curing them.

Start the test here, now.


Thompson, Siân A., John S. Duncan, and Shelagh JM Smith. Partial seizures presenting as panic attacks. BMJ: British Medical Journal 321.7267 (2000): 1002.

Arun P, Chavan BS, Kumar N. Seizure disorder presenting as panic attack . Indian J Med Sci 2002;56:486-8

Picardi, Angelo, et al. Partial seizures due to sclerosis of the right amygdala presenting as panic disorder . Psychopathology 40.3 (2007): 178-183.

Author: Micah Abraham, BSc Psychology, last updated Sep 28, 2017.

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